Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Jordan Kovacs problem

It has been said that I’ve been a little too harsh on freshman walk-on starting safety Jordan Kovacs. Just writing that string of adjectives before his name makes my brain hurt. But I stick by evaluation of Kovacs and will do you one better: Kovacs is to Michigan 2009 what Threetidan was to Michigan 2008.

Hear me out: Threetidan’s impact on the team last year was statistically and empirically obvious. Twelve INTs to only 11 TDs, under 50% completion percentage, immobile quarterbacks trying to fit into a system they had never played and weren’t physically equipped for. It was a horrorshow. And everyone knew it because on every single snap, one of the two unfortunate quarterbacks touched the ball and had to fumble it or hand it off or throw it into the arms of an opposing linebackers or whatever it was they did with the football last year. Their effect was obvious because of how critical that position is offense.

Kovacs’ lack of production and D-1 talent is a little more concealed because of the position he plays. But, if there were a position on the defense that’s as critical to the relative success or failure of the unit in the same way as the quarterback is on offense, it would be safety. Not that your safety should make a play on the ball every time he’s on the field, but being the last line of defense means that any time something goes wrong, or any time a safety screws up his own assignment it’s a massive failure and potential game-changing play.

Of course, a lot of blame gets unnecessarily put on Theetidan and probably Kovacs for the problems each unit experienced. The interceptions weren’t overwhelming and Theetidan wasn’t always the one fumbling, much like Kovacs isn’t always the one that’s missing tackles or not jumping on loose balls or allowing 80 yard runs. There was an obvious lack of production from Threetidan that did cause a lot of trouble last year, and Kovacs presents the same problem on defense this year.

Kovacs, and to a large extent Michigan’s awful linebacker core, have given opposing teams a blueprint of how to beat this defense: Play action pulls Kovacs and the linebackers away, and a pass to a running back or tight end on the opposite side of the field will be wide open. We saw it against Iowa and Penn State and Purdue and probably Illinois (a game which I still haven’t watched and refuse to do so). The mere presence of Kovacs on the field presents a gaping hole in the defense and an obvious weak spot for opposing offenses to attack.

Like Cissoko before him, Kovacs is so deficient at his position, that Greg Robinson actually has to change his formations and personnel to try and reconcile his lack of production (e.g., Donovan Warren essentially playing safety in a cover-2 to try and mitigate the long touchdown). Rich Rodriguez refused to change his system to cater to the players and talent he had last year and was ripped by a number of local and national publications. What Robinson is proving with this defense is you can’t make lemonade with walnuts.

A common refrain is that Kovacs is good as a run stopper--something that may eventually see him move to linebacker, about more which later--but how is this A) something used as the only defensible trait of a starting safety and B) not something taken into account by other coaches. The Kovacs as good run stopper meme exists in a vacuum. When put in context, it becomes, “OK, duh. Now what?” Kovacs is a good run stopper because he sells out on the run on every play. That’s why play action is so dangerous for Michigan: Kovacs doesn’t read plays, he plays against the run. Every coach that has scouted Michigan this year knows it and has exploited this. I shudder to think how Terrelle Pryor is going to beat us on this play.

Just as harmful as Kovacs’ on-field problems, though, is the fact that Vlad Emilien is riding the pine, save for special teams, and has blown his redshirt. Unless the coaches believe that Kovacs has the upside to turn into a long-term answer at the safety position--something that his lack of any recruiting profile and status as a walk-on firmly argues against--leaving Kovacs on the field is doing nothing but taking away from valuable playing time from Emilien. Given the current state of the depth chart at safety, this is a serious problem.

There’s been speculation that Kovacs is being primed to take over Stevie Brown’s position next year in the wake of his graduation, but I frankly could not think of a worse position for Kovacs. Brown is responsible for making quick reads, needs extreme athleticism, and most damning for Kovacs, is put into man coverage any time opposing teams bring out more than two wide receivers. Putting Kovacs here would be a massacre. He simply cannot play that position.

Kovacs is a nice kid and a good story, and just like Nick Sheridan, I harbor no ill will toward him. That’s not to say that I am particularly pleased with how he plays football nor do I want him to be anywhere Michigan’s starting lineup.  Vlad Emilien was a 4-star, stud safety recruit who’s blown his redshirt and sitting behind a player that, in the coming years, will probably never see significant playing time. If we put Emilien in the game, what’s the worse that can happen? He plays like Jordan Kovacs? I suppose at this point, we have to ask what exactly Kovacs is bringing to the table. When it’s all said and done, his negatives far outweigh his positives, and furthermore, he’s having an effect on the long-term growth of a player that we’re kind of counting on.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Kovacs will improve with an offseason in the S&C program and will eventually turn into a serviceable safety or linebacker or wherever he ends up. I don’t like being wrong and I don’t think I am here either. I’ve seen the movie: Even Rudy only gets two plays.


Anonymous said...

You obvious do not know football. This kid can play on my team any day. I know he is a walk on. This walk on knows how to play football better then most players. Two career games with 17 tackles in each game.

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